The former Belarusian presidential candidate and RSF’s staff discussed the disastrous press freedom situation in Belarus and the difficulties that independent journalists and media have faced since the fraudulent election held in August 2020.
“The extraordinary civic and professional mobilisation displayed by Belarusian journalists demands a matching financial and political mobilisation in response, primarily from the European Union,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “We call on the European Union to make all of its financial and material capacity available to Belarusian media and journalists on a lasting basis.”
“Our journalists are in dire need of help by means of a special European Union fund, in particular for their relocation and their legal defence,” Tsikhanouskaya said. “Defending journalists is important all over the world, but especially in Belarus, where they are targeted by security forces that prevent them from filming and reporting what is happening. Without the journalists, we would never know the real situation.”
“We must take action against this government, which terrorises journalists,” Deloire added, expressing the hope that the complaint filed by RSF in Lithuania results in European and international arrest warrants. After Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko ordered a civilian plane to land in Minsk in May, in order to arrest opposition blogger Raman Pratasevich, the Lithuanian authorities opened an investigation into the “hijacking of an aircraft with terrorist intent.”
“We wait impatiently for justice to be done,” Tsikhanouskaya said.
According to RSF’s tally, there have been more than 460 arrests of journalists since Lukashenko’s disputed election. Around 30 journalists and media workers are currently detained, and are facing the possibility of several years in prison in grossly unfair trials.
The criminalisation of journalistic work has stepped up since the autumn of 2020 and is above all targeting those who run independent media outlets and their best-known writers. This unprecedented crackdown culminated in late August with the baseless dissolution of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), the pillar of the defence of press freedom in Belarus for 25 years.
Europe’s most dangerous country for journalists, Belarus is ranked 158th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index, five places lower than in 2020.